United States Coins

Long, long ago, people did not have money. They grew or made everything they needed. Then things started to change. People started to do only one kind of work. Some were farmers, while others were hunters. Trading became necessary. Farmers traded the things they grew and hunters traded the things they caught. This was also called bartering. For instance, farmers might have traded corn for the deer that hunters caught.

However, people had trouble deciding the value of different items that they wanted to trade. They needed a form of currency or money. So, they decided to use shells. Shells were hard to find so they had value. The first form of money was shells.

Other people used different forms of money. The Native Americans used wampum beads made out of shells. Mexicans used beans and people from the Santa Cruz Islands used red feathers. Some folks even used metal money. That was wise because metal didn't wear out. Coins made of gold and silver were worth the most because those metals were the hardest to find. Around 1400 years ago, the Chinese started using paper money.

The first U.S. money was paper notes called Continentals. In 1792, the government started to mint coins at the U.S. mint in Philadelphia. Nowadays there are also U.S. Mints in Denver Colorado, San Francisco California and West Point New York.

U.S. coins usually have a mint mark showing which mint produced them. Coins minted in Philadelphia bear a P or no mint mark; those minted in Denver, a D; in San Francisco, an S; and in West Point, a W.

All coins have several things in common. Each coin has the word "Liberty". The only numbers on a coin show the year it was made. The motto "In God We Trust" is on all coins minted since 1984. Most money has the Latin words "E pluribus unum" which means "out of many, one." This represents the many nationalities of people that came to live in the United States of America.

U.S. Coins
(the ones we've researched so far)
Half Dollar


On the front side of a coin, or "head", you will find portraits or pictures of famous Americans. The Secretary of the U.S. Treasure makes the decision on who will appear on the coins. Most of the portraits are of past presidents. The portraits can not be of a living person.


On the back side, or "tail", of a coin there are American symbols. Sometimes they are historic places.

 Fun Facts about U.S. coins:

  • The way to find out if your 1943 penny is copper is with a magnet. If you can't pick it up with the magnet, it's copper, and it could be worth a lot of money to you.
  • People used to save their cash in kitchen jars made of a clay called pygg, and people called them pygg jars. Later they became known as piggy banks and were made in the shape of pigs.
  • The U.S. Secret Service was established to stop counterfeiting ?
  • If you use a magnifying glass, you can see Abraham Lincoln sitting at the Lincoln Memorial on the back of a penny?
  • Most coins are in circulation for over 15 years.

For more trivia, check out this site: Making $cents of Money.

Do you think you know how to count coins and make change?? Try out some money problems designed by second graders.

If you want to know how coins are made, click here.

Glossary of economic terms



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Page Created by Brooks Widmaier
March 9, 2001